It’s strange how certain conversations can stick with you. I was chatting in an online forum years ago, among good friends, when the topic turned to family relationships. A number of forum members shared difficult and distressing experiences from their personal lives. Then someone asked, a little wistfully, “Is there even such a thing as a normal family anymore? Like, you know, a family where everybody is still talking to each other?”
I had one of those rabbit-in-the-headlight moments. “Yes!” I thought. “Mine!” We’re not perfect, not by any means, but we send each other gifts at Christmas and hold family reunions and take an interest in each others’ lives. Those of us who are married are still on our first marriages, and I’ve chatted amicably with all of my siblings during the past year.
But in the context of the conversation, it didn’t feel right to say that. How could I parade my happiness in front of people who were dealing with the horrifying situations we had just been discussing? It didn’t seem respectful. It didn’t seem appropriate. And so I let the moment pass.
And I find, years later, that I am still saddened by the necessity of doing so.
Because there are happy families in this world. Marriages that actually work. Couples who meet and fall in love and really do find a happily-ever-after together. It is possible. Difficult, yes, especially for those who’ve been handed a crapload of emotional baggage. But possible.
And I think, sometimes, that this possibility gets lost in the massive, ugly realities of day-to-day living. And that those most in need of a glimpse of hope are perhaps the very people who seldom get it – because when your own family life sucks, those who have it better tend to make themselves invisible out of a sense of respect for the difficulties you’re going through.
It’s easy to fall prey to the notion that everyone who appears happy is secretly hiding some ugly skeleton of domestic abuse. That every starry-eyed pair of newlyweds is destined for a rude awakening after their honeymoon. That lasting contentment is a silly children’s story, often envisioned but impossible to experience.
But you see, that’s a notion every bit as unrealistic as the belief that life will unfold perfectly just because you’re in love. Both realities are true – the fairy-tale marriage that crumbles to ashes and the romance which blossoms into 60 years of happiness – they both exist. They are both real. And so, at the same time that conscientious authors are understandably working to prevent young girls from rushing headlong into relationships they’ve not yet taken time to think about, I hope we also don’t erase the idea of a happily-ever-after entirely.
“But wait!” I hear concerned readers saying. “Statistically, the likelihood of an unhappy relationship is much higher than the likelihood of happiness. Why dangle an unrealistic dream in front of children who are sure to be disappointed?”
Well, hm. The likelihood of becoming a NYT Bestseller is, quite frankly, very slim. Do we tell aspiring authors it’s just a pipe dream? Do we urge them to set their sights on something more realistic, like selling a couple of short stories to a semi-pro magazine? Or do we encourage them to buckle down, use whatever resources fate and a cruel world have allotted them, and learn the skills that will give them the best possible chance of reaching that statistically unlikely yet infinitely desirable goalpost?
Happiness exists. It is real. It is possible.
It is worth striving for.
cross-posted from nancyfulda.com